Students singing

NPR has a great story about an inspirational music teacher and what students get from her teaching. I’m not going to lie, I’m a sucker for stories like that.

Debra Kay Robinson Lindsay rehearses one more time with her Honors Chorus group before a concert for Music in Our Schools month, a national event to celebrate music and emphasize its importance in school curriculum.

(Students singing)

Parents beam and students eagerly share what they’ve learned from Mrs. Lindsay, an award-winning music educator, author and composer who has taught in Fairfax County public schools for 39 years.

Students: I’ve learned that the people who you see on television who are really good singers, you need to really work hard and you really need to want this if you want to end up like them . . . She’s taught us a lot of things, especially looking at her and also inhaling and exhaling at the right moment of a song . . . Mrs. Lindsay has taught me numerous things but the one I remember the most is just to believe in yourself, not to be afraid just because of what other people think of you, just go for it, go for your dream.

It’s the obverse of what I’ve been saying about modeling, in a way. There is some overlap – public performance, being looked at – but there is also difference. There’s more than just being looked at.

Although the arts are often targeted in school budget cuts, advocates like Lindsay point out that music instruction helps brain development and overall student achievement.

Debra Lindsay: We teach them experience, we work with them on writing, about what music is, understanding terminology, learning how to write about music, comparing and contrasting, learning how science and sound are related. It’s just not music, it is learning all around.

Lindsay invited her students to help give a training session at the Teaching and Learning 2014 conference in Washington, DC. It’s the first time most of them are performing publicly and while some admit they’re nervous, the performance is a hit and helps demonstrate Debra Lindsay’s teaching techniques.

So that will be a big thing in their lives, which is great.

And then…

Musician Bobby McFerrin is headlining the closing plenary at the Teaching and Learning conference.

McFerrin: And he’d march the whole class out to the front lawn and we’d sit under a tree and have a jam session.

(McFerrin singing)

Mixing his improvisational songs with stories about learning music, it doesn’t take long for McFarrin to ask the audience to get a bit closer.

McFerrin: Come sit on the stage if you want to, we can probably pull up some of these chairs and you can sit up here if you want to …

A couple dozen people move toward the stage; Some bravely join him in song, others ask questions. About 40 minutes in, he hands the mic to the youngest on stage – one of Debra Lindsay’s students:

Nelsa Tiemtore: My name is Nelsa, I’m from Lyles Crouch Traditional Academy, Virginia Public Schools.

McFerrin encourages Nelsa to sing. After some hesitation, she chooses her song.

(Nelsa, McFerrin singing)

How cool is that?!

I saw this story via a tweet by Ron Lindsay. He knows Debra Lindsay.




  1. UnknownEric the Apostate says

    Back in high school, I couldn’t talk in front of people. Heck, I could barely make eye contact with anybody. Then my friends strapped a bass guitar on me and drafted me for their band. I went from awkwardly rocking back and forth with my back to the audience, to turning around, to dancing like a fool, to singing backing vocals, to “singing” lead vocals in a later band. There’s no way I could work with the public today if it hadn’t been for that experience. To be punny, music rocks.

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